Sunday, May 8, 2011

RANT: Western Washingtons view of what farms should be

An emu was hit on the highway 2 trestle (the bridge that spans the island that i farm on) and it made the local paper, and in a discussion related to that article there were a couple of comments that I thought were interesting because it exposes the attitude that people have about farms. 

In short, farms should be, and should only be, what you see on the side of the egg carton.  The beautiful red barn and the green lawn, with the chickens scratching in the yard. 

Here's a quote: 
"Sorry to hear that the bird was not able to be saved. On another note, Ebey Island looks more like a trash dump than a viable agricultural area. Some of the land owners should invest some time into cleaning up their properties; anyone coming west over the trestle has to see an enormous eyesore to the right side. The trestle is the gateway to Everett and the west coast via Highway 2, which comes all the way from Boston, and should be treated as such. For many people, hitting the trestle is the first time they have ever seen salt water or lowland marsh areas. The last thing they should see is something that resembles a landfill. "

My view?  Piss on you, motorist.   Want to see a view of what he's talking about? 

You can use the street view on the highway to see it from the motorists perspective. 
There's a vocal minority of folks who have a particular way that they'd like to see a farm look, and for the most  part it's non-farmers who make this sort of statement.  They'd prefer that your farm look like a golf course, and they want their meat at the lowest possible cost.  It bothers them to see anything that intrudes on their red barn farm fantasy.   If its shown on a milk carton, why, by all that is holy, that's the way it should look!

So I'm arguing with one anonymous person, and they made this comment: 
"This is really unfortunate about the emu, and agreeably about the property and other animals down there. While that is zoned agricultural and being used for agriculture, it is horribly over populated for that small of space. If there were fewer hogs and sheep and if they were rotated the property could look like the pasture on the south side of the highway where the cattle is pastured. It would be tempting to purchase, but the soil will require several years maintenance and no animals before it's healthy.  "
(has this guy ever seen a plowed field?   What on earth is he talking about?  a single growing season is sufficient for anything you want to grow.  My plan is corn, but whatever.  This is my first clue that the guy is clueless) 

This guy claims that he reads my blog, and further that he's a farmer.  Apparently he raises a goat and some chickens.  Yep, a farmer for sure. 

The land he's referring to is an 800 acre parcel directly south of my farm.  It was donated to the YMCA of snohomish county by a paper company 6 years ago.  The YMCA was given 2.5 million dollars for something that the legislature referred to as "the ebey island project" -- no further details available -- and was eventually purchased by the washington department of fish and game for 11 million additional dollars, making the price of that parcel $13.5 million dollars.   That's $16.8k an acre, when the market price in this area for land is about $4k an acre.  The government paid more than 4 times the market rate for that land, making it impossible for private ownership to compete.  I know this because I offered to pay $6k an acre for 100 acres of that land myself.  This overpayment eliminated any possibility of that land being farmed profitably, ever.   

For many years, In the spring and summer, that land is leased by a local farmer who in turn subleases the grazing rights to hundreds of cattle.  This guy is telling me that if I just managed my land as they do, that it'd be much better.   This lease will not be extended next year is the word I get. 

Lets imagine that a private entity purchased that land, and wanted to make a 3% return on it -- a meagre profit, but a nice starting point -- it's enough to pay the taxes and have a little bit of money to fix bridges and roads and stuff on the property. 

That's $405,000 a year. 

So how many cows would you have to graze to earn $405k a year?   lets make it a simple business.  We'll buy our cows in the early spring, graze them, and sell them in the fall.   Assume that we'll have to hire trucks to go get the calves, erect and maintain fencing to keep the cows on the land, provide minerals and some sort of veterinary care, hire people to do all of this, and we'll have some mortality. 
. Lets assume that all of that is 15% of the sale price of the cows. 

Beef cattle are selling for $1.25 a lb average when they're 600lbs, so they cost $750 each.  They sell for about a buck a pound when they weigh 1000lbs.  So we make a gross profit of $250 on each cow we run, less the 15% overhead, or a net profit of $212.50 per cow. 

So now the math is easy.  $405,000 / 212.50 means that we have to run 1,905 cows on that land to make a 3% profit. 

Wow.  that's a big number.  How much money would we have to have on hand to buy that many cows?  simple math.  $750 * 1905 = 1,428,750.  Pretty close to 1.5 million dollars. 

WAIT A SECOND.  We have to make a return on that 1.5 million bucks, too.  If a business has gold-plated credit they can borrow money at 7%.  7% of 1.5 million is $105,000

So to make the interest payment on that money we need to run another 494 cows.  

Hmmm... that's 2,399 cows.  On 800 acres.  That's 3 cows per acre stocking level. 

One way to look at stocking levels is the weight of the animal, a "unit".  So lets say that a unit is 1,000lbs.  Our pigs average around 200lbs (weaners are tiny, sows are huge, lots of weaners), so it's 5 pigs per unit. 

A sheep weighs in at a little over 100lbs on average (figuring in the lambs) so sheep are 10 per unit. 

figure a single cow is about a unit by itself. 

So my entire farm (40 sows, 4 boars,  lots of weaners, 30 sheep, 4 cows, plus some poultry) would add up to...  15 units of animals.  that parcel is 12 acres.  So I'm stocking at 1.25 units of animals per acre. 

I'm stocking at a rate that is 1/3rd what they'd have to do to make a profit - but they don't have to make a profit.  It's a gigantic tax payer subsidy project over there. 

So goat-and-poultry farmers point seems to be that if I stocked my land in a way that made sure that I'd never make a profit of any sort, he'd approve of it. 

Goat-and-poultry, I think you missed the whole private enterprise portion of our culture.  I'm open to suggestions on ways to make a profit, but when you compare my operation to a huge government project that will never ever turn a profit in any sense -- in fact, fish and wildlife will end up paying for the maintenance of that land in perpetuity, it'll cost the government money -- well....

Piss off. 


Anonymous said...

I think you are being a little easy on yourself with 15 animal units. Just a quick look at the numbers and I easily get more than 15. I have raised as many pigs as you are raising and I would never try to do it on the type or the amount of land you are farming.

You are arguing that you can't profit on your farm without overstocking it. This may be true and probably is, but it doesn't change the fact that your land is very overstocked.

Bruce King said...

Why don't you show your work, anon? Do the math right here.

Bruce King said...

You should probably read a bit about sacrifice paddocks as well. I'll start you out here:

Anonymous said...

Here's your math:40 sows @300lbs (at least?)=12 units, 4 boars @ 500lbs = 2 units, 4 cows =4 units, 30 sheep = 3 units. Total = 21 units (not including weaners and other sized non-breeding pigs, chickens, geese etc.)
Your sows may be heavier than my guesstimate and some of your boars may be lighter. I don't know your exact wts., but I think these numbers prove my point.

Jason W said...

Bruce,there's no educating the ignorant. They know what they know, and that's that. Don't let 'em get you down.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Cows are a bad business plan all the way around if you ask me. Maybe you should grow corn or something and get the feds to kick in some subsidies on it so you could make some actual money. Hahahaha!

Anonymous said...

Bruce, I enjoy your straight talk and common sense! You made me smile this morning.
Bill S. up in Skagit

Urbancowgrrl said...

I don't know a thing about farming so I can't comment on "eyesores" or any of that. Although I've driven that stretch of Hwy 2 and find the view of farmlands charming. But then I also prefer to cook a whole chicken when cooking meat and prefer to know where my food comes from. You wouldn't believe how many people back when I lived in Seattle wouldn't cook chicken with the bone in (let alone a whole chicken) because it "looked too much like an animal"! I could never keep my mouth shut when that subject came up. Geez! If you don't want to eat animals don't eat them - but don't continue to eat them only if they look like chicken mcnuggets so you can pretend it isn't animal meat! Ooops ... I just did a little hijack rant, didn't I? In short, it does irritate me that so many people in Western WA want unnatural, fake facades for so much in their life.

Carri said...

Your F
"FARM" Is a DUMP I have to drive by it EVERYDAY and I have learned not to look down at it but unfortunately I have to SMELL IT!!!

You are WAY OVERPOPULATED for the ground and in your Greedy little Heart you know IT!! I raise REGISTERED BERKS and Polled Herefords as well as Birds(Chickens, EMU aand Trukeys) No it was not mine on the Trestle.

I hope that the EPA comes to see you soon. If Cedar Grove can be in trouble for Compost Odor You should be also held liable for your offensive odor that is POLLUTING our Beautiful area!! Not to mention what an EYEsore your place is!! Farmers don't have to be PIGS to raise PIGS!!!

CARRI gladly stating name not hiding fom anything. My farm is clean!!!

Carri said...

You should not sell pigs as purebred if they are not!!! I have contacted you for a purebred Berkshire and they are NOT!!!!

I thought farmers were I know 1 that is not!!

Bruce King said...

Carri, I have never claimed to be selling purebred animals. I have purebred sows, and I crossbreed them to get the litter size, taste and growth characteristics I want. Some of my crossbred are very high percentage berk -- 90% or better -- but even those I'm clear with people who ask what they are. I can show them the boar and sow, and have 3 generations on hand to look at,typically.

So I'm going to ask you to point out where i've said I am selling purebred animals.

I think you owe me an apology.

Bruce King said...

Carri -- you've completely bought into the milk carton farm idea. Your attitude is EXACTLY what I'm writing about in the first part of this post.

You want me to do something different? Tell me what you object to, and I'll promise to listen. I may take your suggestion, or I may not. But I'll listen to it.

Bruce King said...

I'll note that Cari has not replied, that the account was created specifically for this post, and has never been used since.

So much for "not hiding behind a name"